Karen Allen in <i>A Summer Day</i>
Karen Allen in A Summer Day
(© Sandra Coudert)
In the small, nondescript town in Norway that provides the setting for Jon Fosse's intermittently compelling A Summer Day, now being presented by the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre at the Cherry Lane Theatre, the clouds hang nearby threatening to erupt, even when the sun comes out. It's no surprise that it's not the kind of place that not everyone wishes to stay in forever.

The play takes place as "Older Woman (Karen Allen) looks back on one fateful day with her friend, "Older Friend" (Pamela Shaw). The day in question concerns Asle (McCaleb Burnett) and his wife, "Younger Woman" (Samantha Soule), who have recently moved out of the city to a large house on the water in the town.

Asle was not happy in the city and longed for life in the country, as his wife reminds him, but there's still an emptiness inside him. He tries to fill it by spending a large part of his days on the water in an old wooden rowboat equipped with nothing more than a small motor to propel it through the storms.

It's pretty clear early on when Asle leaves to get on his boat that this day is different from others. He folds all his clothes meticulously as an ominous coda to a life that never really began. His depression is never talked about directly, but it's starkly present in all the exchanges with his wife.

It's to Fosse's credit – as well as the work of translator and director Sarah Cameron Sunde -- that we feel so deeply the unspoken unhappiness at the center of the work.

Yet, at the same time, there's a static feeling that overwhelms a good chunk of the show as we're waiting for the inevitable. It is also frustrating that we never get a good sense of who any of these characters are beyond the superficial, despite numerous monologues by Allen's character.

Still when the play reaches its climax, the effect is riveting, due in part to the excellent design team of John McDermott (sets) and Nicole Pearce (lights), who create the terrifying dark abyss of the sea in the moment where the couple will be separated forever.